Rediscovering ancient woodland

Iain Carter, Countryside Manager at Croft Castle

Iain Carter is a self-confessed ‘country boy’ who was able to identify local birdsong and tree species by the age of six. Such passion has stood him in good stead working at the Trust for the past 11 years.

What is your role at the National Trust?
I’ve been the countryside manager for Herefordshire since 2011, responsible for nearly 2000 hectares of woodland and farmland including Croft Castle and parkland, one of the top ten sites in the country for the quality and diversity of its ancient trees. These include a 1,000 year oak and a row of Spanish chestnuts which, legend has it, were taken from captured Spanish vessels during the Spanish Armada in 1588.

How easy is it to manage such a large estate?
It’s a challenge made more difficult by the impact the First World War had on the availability of wood. To give a supply of quick growing timber, conifers were planted over large areas of the 50 hectare parkland. Unfortunately, they took over parts of the landscape, blocking natural light from the forest floor and impacting on some of our traditional species such as Oak, Ash and Hazel.

What was the solution?
A few years ago we started a partnership project with the Forestry Commission to rejuvenate the woodland by extracting around 28 hectares of conifer, exposing an ancient wood pasture underneath an Iron Age hillfort. In addition to the wood pasture project, we reviewed Croft’s energy usage as part of the Trust’s Renewable Energy Investment Programme. We decided to replace the old oil-powered boiler, which used around 19,500 litres of oil each year, with a new biomass heating system running off woodchip made from the conifers.

Has it been the success you predicted it would be?
Absolutely. It’s now cost effective to cut down existing conifers within Croft’s estate to supply the new heating system which is saving 52 tonnes of CO 2 emissions each year and has also removed the risk of oil leaks. The amount of energy provided is equivalent to the heat used in around 12 average UK houses and heating bills have been cut by £6000 each year. 

Work continues in the woodland at Croft and where timber is now routinely harvested from the estate it has a dual benefit of helping us to restore the historic broadleaf landscape. We’re opening up new paths and views of the wonderful landscape for visitors and have also seen an increase in biodiversity, particularly amongst endangered bird species such as the lesser spotted woodpecker and marsh tit.

We’ve even had Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, come and see what we’ve been up to. She was particularly interested to learn how the biomass is benefitting forest management at Croft.


Croft Castle: How to get warmth from the woods

Watch the video and find out how we use wood from our parkland at Croft Castle to fuel our biomass boiler, and provide power for the whole estate.